Ditch the guilt, ditch the clutter in 10 easy steps
This week I want to tackle the hard stuff. The memorabilia and sentimental items that can be so hard to let go. Your adult child’s first teddy bear, a craft item made by a grand-daughter many years ago, china passed down from a much-loved relative, old letters from past loves. The emotion attached to these things makes deciding what to keep and what to let go almost impossible.
What I notice is that most people I work with no longer derive any pleasure from their boxes of sentimental items. Instead they experience a weight of guilt and indecision. There is so much emotion connected to every item that it’s easy to become paralysed by the hard decisions needed to let go of these objects.
If sentimental items give you joy and you take pleasure browsing through them, keep them! But if they don’t, or you simply no longer have space for them, it’s time to tackle some of the reasons you’re holding on to them. Remember, we are not our things!
There are a number of reasons people find it difficult to make decisions about memorabilia:
- We were taught by our parents, most often our mothers, not to throw out things that may have a financial or emotional value or that ‘might come in handy one day.’
- We are too busy in our everyday lives to give the time and energy to making the difficult decisions on emotional items, and to then execute the actions required based on those decisions.
- We feel guilty about throwing away items from loved ones who have passed away. Perhaps we feel that discarding something that someone owned means that we didn’t love them, that we will forget them or that we are discarding the memories of that person along with the item.
- We feel that throwing away an item means discarding the memory associated with that occasion.
- We often have an unrealistic view about what things are worth. It might feel wasteful not to hold on to items of (often mistakenly) a high perceived value.
There are many sound reasons our parents held on to stuff. They may have grown up in more difficult financial circumstances. Consumer goods were more expensive. There may have had a religious or held conviction of ‘waste not want not’ instilled into them by their own parents. Mothers may unconsciously pass on the heavy mantle of Memory Keeper to their daughters in order to feel precious family history will be kept in safe hands.
Now let’s consider your own situation.
Are those long held and inherited beliefs serving you well? Why not ditch the guilt and make your decisions based on what’s happening in your life right now? Rather than focusing on things that weigh you down emotionally, why not focus on the things that bring you joy? You can choose to spend your energy living an intentional life. Why not spend your resources on experiences, not stuff?
Moving, renovating or downsizing can force us to address the problem of sentimental items. Or sometimes we’re finally ready and motivated to reduce the clutter that we’ve dragged around with us so we can move to another phase of our lives.
10 clear steps to tackle your sentimental clutter
- First, remember that you can get rid of an item without getting rid of the memory. You are creating space in your life for joy! What is a better motivator than that?
- Schedule an hour of your time without interruptions (put your phone on silent) to tackle one box or shelf or memorabilia. Consider asking a friend to help you. Someone with fresh eyes, who’s not attached to your things and can bring more clarity to your decision making
- You may like to take a ‘before’ photo.
- Assemble 4 bags or small boxes:
- For items to donate
- For items to recycle,
- For items to give away or perhaps be sold
- A bag for rubbish
- Set a timer to a maximum of 1 hour
- Take out each item. Look at the items one by one and ask yourself these questions.
- Do you want it displayed in your home? If not, it might be better housed in a home where it will be appreciated. Give it away to someone who will use it or donate it to someone who needs it.
- Does it bring back happy or unhappy memories? Is it more of an emotional burden rather than something that brings you pleasure?
- Can you choose one of the best of the items where there are many and discard the rest? E.g. choose one beautiful teacup and saucer to display and give the rest of the set to charity or someone who would use it.
- Is it in good order? If it’s ripped or torn, chipped or broken and you haven’t fixed it by now then you probably won’t, so out it goes.
- Have you looked at it in the last 12 months? No?I would suggest it can go
- If your children are now adults and it belongs to them, let them decide what they want to keep, recycle, give away or just throw out. You can make a digital memory book of all the precious photos that would make a gorgeous gift to mark a special birthday.
- Ask yourself: Is it guilt holding you back? Is the actual item bringing you any pleasure or is the purely emotional attachment that you have to the item? Will the memory of that person or occasion be diminished if you no longer have that item?
- Take a photo of items you would like to remember before you let them go
- After an hour take a breather. See how you’re feeling. This work can be very draining. It’s not just physical work, it’s emotional work too. If you’ve had enough, stop after an hour and schedule another round in the near future. If you’re feeling good, have a glass of water, re-set the timer and work for another hour.
- Take an ‘after’ photo and congratulate yourself on a job well done!
- Stop and sort out your bags and boxes. Put out the rubbish and the recycling. Put the donated items in the car ready to drop off.
Let me know your thoughts. Do you have an item that you’re stuck on? Do you have any other strategies that have worked for you to help you decide what to keep and what to discard? If you have managed to declutter some of the difficult emotional stuff how did you feel afterwards?
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